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Half a Life

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  3,670 Ratings  ·  742 Reviews
"Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”
So begins Darin Strauss’ Half a Life, the true story of how one outing in his father’s Oldsmobile resulted in the death of a classmate and the beginning of a different, darker life for the author. We follow Strauss as he explores his startling past collision, funeral, the queasy drama of a high-stakes court case and what starts as a pers
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Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 13th 2010 by Penguin Aus.
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ben Loory
i feel bad for not liking this more than i do; darin strauss seems like a good guy and life definitely dealt him a shitty hand in the accident this memoir is about. but after the first 50 pages or so, it just felt like all the emotion leaked away, and then never really came back. leaving a hundred or so pages of what i would characterize as gentle rumination. which is fine-- it's certainly not a bad book-- but it's not the mind-blowing or heart-wrenching memoir one might expect from such an even ...more
Peter Derk
Dec 26, 2012 Peter Derk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: petestop0f2012
I don't really know how to rate this. Not because it's a bad book. It's a really good book. It feels weird to rate it.

It's kind of like this: My brother taught some English classes at some colleges, and he made a rule that in the beginning classes he didn't want anyone to write essays about two things: Marijuana legalization and personal rape stories. The first because he'd just read too many that covered the same ground. The second sounds a little cold-hearted, but I can get behind his reasoni
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Melinda
Mar 06, 2013 Melinda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I really didn't like this book. I know, I know. It was supposed to be poignant and emotionally searing and blah blah blah, but the author came across to me as a self indulgent navel gazer. Some of the writing itself was atrocious: "I dropped a clumsy hand to the table and splashed my salad." Had to read that one twice. "My internal climate was a hurricane alley. Emotions blew through, downing power lines, hefting cars onto roofs, destroying the finish. Low trees, dead wood thrown across traffic. ...more
christa
Aug 28, 2011 christa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone with a vivid imagination and a something ton vehicle who has ever cruised alongside a wobbly bicyclist has probably mentally played out this scene: Biker veers left into the path of the car, defies gravity by skirting up the hood, face pressed into the windshield, body tossed like a limp towel to the shoulder of the road, the thump of flesh bags dropped into gravel, the glint of a reflector and the crush of metal.

In the case of Darin Strauss, this is exactly what happened toward the end
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Chad
Feb 10, 2011 Chad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book in one sitting, staying up much later than I probably should have, because really, how can you not? I had a lot of love for Strauss as a writer before reading this, based solely on his fiction, and now I have about ten million times as much.

Memoirs can be such a dicey thing: it’s so easy to hit a wrong note, or a right note unearned. But Strauss nails it. He gets at “complicated grief” in a really important way, looks inward and outward at the mess it can make, the shadow i
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Richard Kramer
Sep 27, 2014 Richard Kramer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve just read Half a Life, Darin Strauss’ book about an event in his life when he was still a boy, but driving, that would shape forever the man he would and could become. He begins like this. “Half my life ago,” he writes, “I killed a girl.” I don’t want to say more about the ostensible subject of the book, because you should discover for yourself how Mr Strauss has taken that cold fact and crafted from it both a work of art and a humble, useful object. And also, because for me, the book’s tr ...more
joey
Apr 27, 2011 joey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stubbornly honest and disarmingly vulnerable, Darin Strauss's concise memoir tells of two lives tragically united by accident, one life that ended and another that continued, transformed. I felt overwhelmed--alternately weighed down and buoyed--by Strauss’s cathartic recounting of an automobile accident, not his fault, decades ago, and the sadness, pain, survivor's guilt, litigation, confusion, learning, growth, and gratitude that followed.

Strauss refuses to offer pithy answers, easy self-help q
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esmepie
Dec 26, 2010 esmepie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I've been waiting for this for months from the library. Based on the reviews, I expected to be blown away, but I wasn't even mildly impressed, much less very interested.

Quickly summarized, this is a memoir written by a now-adult author who accidentally hit a classmate with his car when he was a senior in high school, and this accident resulted in her death. In the end notes the author states he originally thought this would be told in a longer essay--perhaps 40 to 50 pages--but his editors (Dav
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Riley
May 25, 2011 Riley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The first section (about the accident) is choppy, complex, and full of future-self-looking-back insights that make it hard to connect with what's happening in the story. I wish Strauss had been able to commit to the past, had allowed himself to show us what that time was like WITHOUT all the disclaimers and "please don't think badly of me" remarks. He wrote "My fear now is that all of this sounds over-aestheticized, and vague." Unfortunately that's exactly what happened.

HOWEVER. The following se
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Andrea
Dec 22, 2011 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When he was 18 years old and a few weeks away from his high school graduation, Darin Strauss hit a girl with his car who was riding a bicycle and then suddenly swerved into the road. Although five eyewitnesses and the police who investigated the accident said there was nothing he could have done to avoid the collision, Darin is understandably filled with guilt and grief. This memoir is about how this accident has affected Darin's life. As he progresses through life, he feels the ghost of Celine ...more
S.
How can I say it but to say this book was dull? "Remarkable, lyrical and brave," as the blurbs say? "Inspiring and painfully raw?" "Haunting?" Uhhh, nope. Rather like a very tame, too-long therapy session about someone you’re sorry for but can’t get terribly whipped up about. Or even feel all that sorry for, because it's sad and shit luck and all that but where's crazed Dostoevsky when you actually need him? It's great to be introspective if you're, say, Fernando Pessoa.

I didn't like the style.
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Jennifer
Jan 30, 2016 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has had to deal with grief (and isn't that really everyone)
Recommended to Jennifer by: Ira Glass
I’ve had this memoir on my to-read shelf for far too long; I think someone gave it to me or I picked it up at a book sale. Still, I remember Darin Strauss telling a version of this story on This American Life a while ago—how one day near the end of his senior year of high school, he was driving some of his friends to play mini-golf and he struck and killed a girl on a bicycle. Darin knew this girl, Celine Zilke, because she was a year behind him in high school, but yet he didn’t really know her ...more
Linda
By his own admission, Darin Strauss wrote this book as part of his healing process more than two decades after causing the death of one of his high school classmates in a car vs bicycle accident. Although Darin was cleared of any wrongdoing, it still became the defining moment in his life. Writing it all down for the world to read was his way of exorcizing the tremendous guilt and grief he had been holding inside for so long. His introspection and self-awareness were interesting, and I found mys ...more
Dierdra Byrd
This is the first book I have read by this author and this is the first non fiction book he wrote. The book is about what happened to his life after at age 18 he hit and killed a girl with his car. She crossed two lanes of traffic on her bike and he hit her.
The book seemed like an interesting topic and I enjoy reading memories but this book was just not all that interesting for me. I can't even start to imagine how hard it had to have been for the author to write this book tho because it is ver
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Alli
Aug 08, 2016 Alli rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

This was a wonderful memoir, but I might have liked it a little more if I did not have to write a full essay on it."

Garwen Jackson
Jan 18, 2011 Garwen Jackson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A memoir by the author, who had lived most of his life every waking day to recall the day he had hit a young bicyclist with his car and killed her. Absolved of responsibility by the police, he personally was unable to shake the guilt, and it isn't until his late 30's that he begins the memoir and his ability to live with the events in his past.
Mary
Feb 21, 2016 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, nonfiction
A haunting memoir and meditation on grief and responsibility. A few weeks before his high school graduation, Strauss accidentally kills a classmate who rode her bike into his on-coming car. Strauss describes how this event and the process of grief changed everything about his life. "Things don't go away. They become you." I think about how fragile we are. How life can change in a minute. How moving on from grief is not the answer or even possible or the right thing. I'm glad to have read this ca ...more
Julie
Mar 23, 2011 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I loved Darrin Strauss's novels, and I think he's a top notch writer. This memoir was solid, but left me feeling a little underwhelmed. It's the story of the car wreck that killed a girl in his high school; Strauss drove the car that hit her, and although it was an accident pure and simple, of course he has spent the next 20 years grappling with his guilt.

Technically-speaking, the writing is good, and the unfolding of the main story is well-paced. I also understand why he wanted to write the bo
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Nicole
Apr 12, 2011 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Susanna
Dec 28, 2014 Susanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, coming-of-age
I'm surprised to see that this book is 204 pages long - it felt shorter, almost like the essay Strauss writes that this book began as, and was a quick read. The narrative is straightforward in language and also goes in a straightforward trajectory through the time between the precipitating accident of the story, and closer to the present day, when the narrator finally finds some kind of resolution. Half a Life is a bit different from some memoirs I've read lately in that Strauss tells the story, ...more
Alisha Marie
I had very conflicting feelings while reading Half a Life. For some reason, when I think about a car accident in which someone died, I automatically assume that one driver was at fault. It’s much easier for an outsider to think this way. If someone was drinking and driving and it results in someone’s death, then you know who to blame: the person who got drunk and drove. It’s very black and white. However, those “no fault” accidents tend to be myriad shades of gray.

That’s basically where my conf
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Eric Klee
The title of Darin Strauss' memoir has two meanings. One: That half his life ago (i.e., meaning that when he was 18, being in his late 30s when he wrote the book), he accidentally killed a girl his age while driving. This is the meaning the author intended. However, there is also my second interpretation of the title: the girl Celine that died only lived "half a life;" she only had a childhood, never an adulthood.

Although Strauss states that he sat down to write this memoir in his late 30s, it
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Natalia
Apr 01, 2011 Natalia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I subscribe to McSweeney's book subscription club, so their new books turn up on my doorstep every few weeks. When this one arrived, i was initially pulled in by the beautifully designed book. It's typeset beautifully, short chapters a lot of white space, as an object it is lovely. (Though by the time i got to the end, the novelty of the extreme amounts of white space wore off and I started to feel like it was a short book peanutbuttered onto a long book's body.)

The most striking thing about the
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Julie Hilden
Aug 08, 2011 Julie Hilden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erica
It's really strange to read a memoir written by someone you know about something so personal. Darin Strauss was one of my college writing teachers. I took his class more than once and between Darin himself and some of the other people there that class shaped a lot of who I am as a writer. This book is about how he accidentally hit a classmate of his with his car and killed her when he was a teenager, and though he had definitely mentioned that in class once, it was in an offhand remark. But this ...more
Kristie
Apr 19, 2011 Kristie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book as a giveaway (thank you!) so was quite anxious to read it. I was not disappointed nor was I blown away. As I was reading it, I felt like I was tucked away in a glass room, looking at the life of this young man who did nothing wrong but was involved in a tragic accident that left a classmate dead. I never did actually feel his confusion, his pain yet I know it had to have been intense. Because (luckily) nothing like this has ever happened to me, I was leaving it up to the wr ...more
thewanderingjew
Sep 18, 2011 thewanderingjew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
When I turned to the last page of this profound little book, I simply sat quietly and thought about how awful it must be to carry guilt with you, like a shadow, for most of your life, for something you probably had little or no control over and are completely without blame.
This poignant, honest appraisal of a tragic accident, that took place "half a life" away, grips you in its claws. You are compelled to empathize with the driver of the car and the bicyclist that was killed. The simplicity of
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Jill
Apr 25, 2011 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an old Mariner kills an albatross – a bird that symbolizes the soul – and as a result, is forced to wander the earth and tell his story of torment before he becomes “a sadder and a wiser man.” In ways, this is an apt comparison to Darin Strauss, who, at age 18, inadvertently kills Celine Zilke, whose bicycle swerves into the path of his car.

This is a very personal tale about a tragedy that shaped the author’s entire life, and he tells it unflinchingly and with
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Stephanie Austin
(note: Some of the formatting is messed up from when I transferred it from Word. I'm not, as Goodreads would suggest, going to use html formatting because that takes too long.)

I’m not giving anything away by telling you what happened up front. When Darin Strauss was eighteen, just about to finish high school, he struck a classmate who had been riding her bike along the road. She died.
I first heard this when Strauss read it as an essay on This American Life. I was riveted. I downloaded the podc
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A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and a winner of the American Library Association's Alix Award and The National Book Critics Circle Award, the internationally-bestselling writer Darin Strauss is the author of the novels Chang & Eng, The Real McCoy, and More Than It Hurts You, and the NBCC-winning memoir Half a Life. These have been New York Times Notable Books, Newsweek, Los Angeles Ti ...more
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“Things don't go away. They become you.” 16 likes
“I think each family has a funhouse logic all its own, and in that distortion,in that delusion, all behavior can seem both perfectly normal and crazy.” 14 likes
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